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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3526

Senator KIRK (2:35 PM) —My question is directed to the Special Minister of State, Senator Faulkner. Will the minister advise on the status of the code of conduct for ministerial staff which was foreshadowed by the Prime Minister and the minister?

Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Kirk for her question. The government has developed a code of conduct which will apply to all ministerial staff employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984. The code will take effect from next Tuesday, 1 July 2008. This will be the first time a comprehensive code governing the conduct of ministerial staff has been implemented. The code reflects this government’s commitment to integrity across government and our expectations that ministerial staff, who play such an important role working within government, will understand and meet high standards in carrying out their duties. Further, to the extent that the code deals with the relationships between ministerial staff and the Australian Public Service, the government’s goal of restoring the Westminster tradition will be advanced.

Let me outline some of the main elements of the code. As senators would expect, ministerial staff will be required to behave honestly and with integrity and to perform their duties with care and diligence. The code deals with conflicts of interests and, under the code, all ministerial staff engaged by this government are required to provide statements of private interests to their employing ministers. The receipt of gifts and sponsored travel will need to be declared in writing to ministers and any outside employment would only be permitted with the written agreement of the relevant minister. Ministerial staff will be expected to meet appropriate standards of behaviour in their dealings with others.

In relation to the Australian Public Service the code requires that ministerial staff be aware of the values and code of conduct that bind public servants and the employees of parliamentary departments. I regard this requirement as an important element of the code that will, as I have said before, assist in strengthening the Westminster tradition under which the respective roles of ministerial staff and public servants are understood and respected. The code also makes clear that ministerial staff in their own right do not have the power to direct APS employees.

Senator KIRK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the code ensure that ministerial staff are prevented from making executive decisions?

Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Kirk for her supplementary question. I say to Senator Kirk that, as indicated by the Prime Minister, ministerial staff will not be authorised to make executive decisions, as these decisions are the preserve of ministers and public servants. The ministerial staff code of conduct makes this crystal clear. The government believes that, within ministers’ offices, it is ministers who must make executive decisions and it is ministers who are and who should be accountable for those decisions. Ministerial staff engaged by this government also have attended induction training at which this message has been strongly conveyed. For the benefit of the Senate I table the ministerial staff code of conduct.